23 June 2010

NEARfest 2010: The first 5 bands...

Riverside: We got going a smidge late, though through no one’s fault. As such, we didn’t pull into the venue parking lot till about 20 minutes before show. Still, it was enough time to get my shirt, program and pint glass, as well as get waylaid by Andy Sussman from Frogg Café, who was more than willing to take a 20.00 bill in exchange for a copy of the new album and a black t-shirt. My purchasing cherry broken for NF 2010, we meandered into the theatre for the first band of the weekend.

Riverside, for those of you not familiar with them, hail from Poland. They played NF in 2006, and I enjoyed them back then. For some reason, their performance on Friday night left me cold, and it’s a shame because I think they were in many, if not most, ways superior this year. They were tighter, less self-conscious, and played very well. I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I had in the past. I wish I could say some of it is unfamiliarity with the material, but I doubt that is the case, as that hasn’t stopped me before. It may well just be an indication of where my head is at musically these days. In any event, solid performance, very good stage presence, very good playing, but I didn’t connect, though through no fault of the band.

The break between sets allowed me to pick up a few more choice goodies from the merch rooms and get bombarded with people saying hello. It got a little overwhelming after a while, but it was good as always to see so many people I don’t get much opportunity to spend time with for one reason or another. Finally the doors opened and we settled back in for an encore performance, 8 years on, from…

Steve Hackett, formerly the best known of the guitarists who played with Genesis. His solo career has been long and variegated, and I was looking forward to his performance. What struck me almost immediately (as I hadn’t read the program yet) was that he had a larger band than in 2002, and that things seemed a lot more vocally orientated than in years past. This would be a nice addition to things, and the band cruised through a tight and memorable performance. I teared up a little on Carpet Crawlers, not knowing that we’d also get a full version of Firth of Fifth and Blood on the Rooftops, which were stunning. He also pulled out some new material from Out of the Tunnel’s Mouth, some choice pieces from To Watch the Storms (Serpentine Song and Mechanical Bride, both as Crimsoid as ever), and a wonderful classical set. He was in fine form, humourous and talkative, and his backing band (the classic King/Townsend/O’Toole quartet, aided and abetted by Nick Beggs on bass and stick and Amanda Lehmann on guitar and vocals) was superlative. For me, the biggest highlight was ‘Everyday’ with Hackett and Lehmann doing some excellent harmony playing on the solos. Brilliant stuff. It was a great way to really get the festival off on the right foot, and I left the first night with a smile on my face.

SATURDAY MORNING came way too early. This would be a harbinger of things to come, I feared, and it was true. Oh so very true. Still, we dragged ourselves out of bed, showered, I transferred my photos over to my PC, posted a few, off loaded my swag (I love that word. Swag. It’s a cool word) and prepped for the first full day of shows.

I had been going from table to table looking for the new Enid album, and no one had it. Everyone said only the band was bringing it. And there was no one at their table. They were conspicuous by their absence. Due to the legal stuff going around with them, I didn’t want to bring my copies of In the Region and Aerie Faerie Nonsense as I’d feel awkward asking them to sign them. So I figured I’d wait…and hope.

In any event, the doors opened, and it was time for ASTRA from California. They’re described as kind of spacey, kind of psychedelic, and they had those qualities in spades. Apparently they did their entire album as a suite, and so it really felt like they just kept going on and on. I don’t have an issue with long songs, obviously, nor do I have an issue with repetition (I’m a Magma fan, after all!), but I just felt like…well, at one point they hit a cadence that felt like an ending, and then they repeated it. And again. Around the fifteenth false cadence I was thinking ‘This is the song that never ends, it just goes on and on my friends…’

Having said this…double neck guitar! Made me happy. Nice keyboards. Great use of projections. There was good in there, and I wasn’t cold to them. I enjoyed what I heard…not enough to buy the album yet, but maybe someday soon.

After autographs, We popped outside for lunch. I got a burger at the little stand they had outside, and honestly I was pretty happy with it. I finished eating and was interviewed on camera by Tom Gagliardi and Krys Papineau, for what purpose I did not know. But there was a chest bump involved, and honestly I feared this would not end well. Following on from this we moved back inside (it was starting to get warm, but not unbearable), and it was almost time for another of the bands I was most looking forward to…

The Forgas Band Phenomenon. I was introduced to them a few years back by Bob Netherton, who raved about their Soliel 12 album, which I bought and enjoyed greatly. When they were signed for NF ’10, I knew I’d enjoy them, and I did. Loads of horns, sweet violin playing, and a fantastic drummer who could groove and swing in odd time signatures. The bassist was solid and laid it down, and the guitarist played his butt off. They were funny at the mic as well, perhaps a bit awkward speaking in English but making the effort and laughing at themselves when they just didn’t get it quite right. They played bits off Soliel 12, L’Axe du Fou, a piece off their soon to be recorded album, and a number of other compositions I wasn’t immediately familiar with, but enjoyed greatly. As far as ensemble playing went, FBP was maybe the tightest group over all, and I really really loved them.

Following on from the break, IONA was up third and I had a feeling that they might be a let down for a lot of people. For one, their material is not as intricate as a lot of bands, their sound lighter and less incendiary, and their lyrics are somewhat message driven. Still, I’m a sucker for Celtic influenced music, and for me, that was enough to find stuff to enjoy. Joanne Hogg has a lovely voice (and is enjoyable on guitar and keys as well), and was quite funny between songs, telling stories and interacting with the audience. I think she may have pushed the long songs/prog thing a bit hard, perhaps because their material is perhaps not what a hardcore prog audience would expect. Maybe if she was less up front/persistent about that, it might not have seemed as big an issue, but for me, it almost felt like they were trying to implore people to listen, where just playing and joking about the other things they joked about might have succeeded more. I also enjoyed the uilleann pipes playing from new member Martin Nolan, and I think they were very enjoyable and pleasant to listen to.

I wish I’d had a chance to get them to sign, but it was the first full night, and we had dinner to go to. We made it to the Brew Works in record time, even with the GPS (as I was nervous about my abilities to get us there) screwing up, forcing me to become the GPS. I got us to the right road, at which time the GPS chimed in ‘In point three miles, arrive at destination on the left.’

Gee, thanks.

We got seated in the Fishbowl, ordered drinks and dinner, and got Andy Sussman from Frogg Café to take a shot of the five of us at dinner. Andy hung around and chatted with us for a good bit, and finally food came. I decided to splurge and ordered the Kobe beef burger, which was probably the most amazing burger I have ever eaten. We hung, and chatted, and laughed, and finally headed back to the venue for the headliner for day 2…but before that, I took one last pass by the band room upstairs in hopes that the Enid had finally gotten there. Indeed they had, and I almost literally ran in, grabbed copies of the 2 new CDs (Journey’s End and Arise and Shine). I also ended up chatting with the merch person a bit about future releases (a DVD from Birmingham with 10 cameras, Francis Lickerish and the Chaldean Brass doing Fand among the other new and old stuff in the current repertoire). I was happy…they didn’t have the Hammersmith DVD, but I got the new stuff…

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Here's a recent innerview w/ Hackett ... 'out of the tunnel's mouth' :